As a continuation of my previous post, let’s start by filling in the blank to my previous post title:
The history of my hotel loyalty, and why I’m seriously considering Hilton HHonors
Well done, Steven, you were the first to guess correctly.
Let me start by saying this — the last thing I want is to have to maintain status with another hotel program, for the sake of both my wallet and my sanity.
But I have found myself salivating more and more over some Hilton properties and redemption values, and I don’t know how to deal with my urges short of doing the unthinkable, which is going for Hilton Diamond status.
Top tier hotel status on credit card spend
The good news is that Hilton Diamond status can be earned solely on credit card spend. $40,000 of spend per calendar year on the American Express Hilton Surpass card will get you Diamond status, while the card comes with free Gold status the first year. The card is fairly rewarding even without the Diamond status, given that it earns nine points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, six points per dollar spent on gas, groceries, and phone bills, and three points per dollar spent on everything else (and for the record this isn’t a card I earn any referral credit on).
In my recent post valuing hotel points, I valued Hilton HHonors points at 0.8 cents each. Since you’re earning at least three points per dollar spent, that’s basically a 2.4% return on everyday credit card spend, which is great.
While I’m not suggesting this would work on a large scale, PayPal’s fee is something like 3%, so $40,000 processed by them would cost you $1,200. But you’d earn 120,000 Hilton HHonors points for that, which I value at 0.8 cents each, meaning you’re really only paying ~$240 for that $40,000 of spend (since you’re also earning $960 worth of points by my valuation). Again, I’m not suggesting this would actually work on a large scale since you may very well get hit with an American Express Financial Review or an audit by Paypal, but it’s more the principle I find interesting.
My parents have a business through which they have to make quite a few purchases, and right now I have them using the Starwood American Express card, since their purchases don’t qualify for any bonus category. That being said, I’m very tempted to sign up for the Hilton Surpass card and add them as authorized users. I’m sure I could work out something that’s mutually beneficial.
The general idea is that I think most of us know someone that puts a lot of spend on a credit card, so use that to your advantage. Very few people value their credit card rewards at over 3%.
Easy Hilton HHonors points through Hawaiian Airlines credit cards
Hawaiian Airlines has co-branded credit cards with the Bank of Hawaii and Bank of America, both of which offer 35,000 HawaiianMiles after spending $1,000 within four months. HawaiianMiles can be converted to Hilton HHonors points at a 1:2 ratio, so that’s an easy 140,000 Hilton HHonors points.
How Hilton has improved over the past year(s)
I’ve always found Hilton’s loyalty program to be lackluster. It’s still not my favorite, though I do think it has improved considerably.
First of all, they’ve been running much better promotions than in the past, not only in absolute terms, but especially in relative terms as both Hyatt and Starwood have been offering less lucrative promotions lately. During their current promotion, for example, you can earn up to 49 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties.
Furthermore, Hilton has also added some Diamond benefits over the past couple of years. Previously there was very little differentiation between Gold and Diamond status, though now Diamond members get free internet, plus free room upgrades, plus the 1,000 point welcome amenity, plus club lounge access or restaurant breakfast. That’s much more generous than what they offered in the past, whereby they made you choose between those options.
In January they even added suite upgrades as a benefit for Diamond members, though unfortunately it seemed to be more hype than an actual concrete benefit. All they really did was give hotels the option of upgrading Diamond members to suites, as opposed to promising it based on availability. In other words, even if all of a hotel’s suites are empty, they have no obligation to upgrade you. And there are some other negatives, like Hilton’s award chart devaluation a couple of years ago and addition of “premium rooms,” though I consider neither to be a deal killer.
But still, the program has improved considerably, and top tier status seems an especially good value if achieved on credit card spend.
The amazing value of Hilton’s AXON awards
Hilton’s most expensive hotels (category 7) go for 50,000 points per night which is definitely on the high side, though one of the best values in the hotel industry are their AXON awards, for those with co-branded Hilton credit cards. Through this program you get a discount for extended stays. For example, if you book an AXON award, four nights in a category 7 hotel is only 145,000 points. That’s better than getting the fourth night free, and brings down the nightly cost to ~36,000 points per night.
For me, four nights is the perfect length for a hotel stay, so I appreciate the discount for the shorter stay, unlike Marriott, which offers travel packages for seven night stays (I don’t think I’ve ever stayed anywhere for seven nights… including at home).
The real reason Hilton is tempting me
I’m all about the aspirational award, and frankly I’ve been let down by just about all my preferred brands in that regard lately. Just as an example, I really want to go to Koh Samui, Thailand, which looks stunning.
InterContinental has a new property there, though it’s $350USD+ per night. While I could redeem points there, Royal Ambassador benefits wouldn’t be honored, so for me that’s not much of a reward.
Hyatt doesn’t have any property in Koh Samui.
Starwood has the W Retreat. The revenue rates are $500USD++ per night, and the hotel is marked as having “limited participation” in Starwood. This is because all of their rooms are villas, so you have to pay double as many points for a free night, making it 40,000+ SPG points per night. Given that SPG points are worth nearly three times as much as Hilton points, that’s an outrageous amount.
Meanwhile Hilton has the beautiful Conrad Koh Samui. Every review I’ve read has been great, and the property looks breathtaking. The cost is 50,000 points per night, but through an AXON redemption you’d pay just 145,000 points for four nights.
~36,000 points for a villa that would cost ~$1,000USD per night? Now that’s a spectacular value, not just because of the retail cost, but because the hotel looks stunning.
So I guess what it comes down to for me is that in the same way Park Hyatt hotels make loyalty to Hyatt worthwhile, Conrad hotels make loyalty to Hilton worthwhile. They have some amazing hotels in Hong Kong, the Maldives, and Tokyo, just to name a few cities.
I’m not looking for a hotel chain to park another 30+ nights per year, but rather a program that has some top resorts I can redeem for economically. And I think in a way Hilton has exactly what I’m looking for. I don’t like staying places for a week, but I do like staying places for four nights, and getting the fourth night free and then some is a pretty unbeatable value. They have enough aspirational hotels that I feel the program is worth accruing points with, and then making maybe two “big” award redemptions per year at their properties.
But then I have to ask myself, am I just becoming a complete points sl*t? I mean, they are called loyalty programs after all, and can you really be considered “loyal” when you’re sleeping with 80% of the major hotel brand loyalty programs?
What would you do? Anyone else in a similar situation and at least a bit tempted by Hilton? Or should I just stick to the programs I have and be happy?